Most of the Greek joints in Denver, as I note in this week's review, are mediocre places where people yell "Opa!" -- an expression of joy -- despite the fact that the fare they're serving is rather joyless. Given how vibrant Greek culture is, that just makes me sad.
There are a few spots in town, however, that offer a welcome taste of the island nation in the Mediterranean. Here are the five best.
Axios Estiatorio (3901 Tennyson Street) When Brasserie Felix closed the doors on its prime piece of real estate on Tennyson, the location was quickly snatched up by Telly Topakas, a veteran restaurateur who also owns a Greek spot in Colorado Springs. Topakas wanted a more upscale restaurant in Denver, and he hired Royce Oliveira, a novice to Greek cuisine, to man the burners. Oliveira's menu captures the joy of Greek culture without strictly adhering to tradition -- and the food, like the place, is fresh, interesting and incredibly tasty. Opa!
Yanni's Greek Restaurant (5425 Landmark Place, Englewood) Ever since Yanni Stavropoulos opened his original namesake restaurant in southeast Denver more three decades ago, people have been clamoring. Now located in the Landmark development, his restaurant still serves a massive menu that spans most of the traditional Greek canon. Highlights include souvlakis, saganaki and char-broiled octopus, but the best time to hit this spot is on Sunday, when the lamb rotisserie is smoking outside, perfuming the airt with the mouth-watering scent of roasted meat.
Omonoia Bakery (2813 East Colfax Avenue) Dino Karas owned this Greek bakery -- located just a hop, skip and a jump from East High School -- for more than forty years. But when he passed away a year and a half ago, he left it to the mother of his godson, Gabriela Afework, who gave the interior an update but kept the menu. The spot continues to turn out a vast array of sweet and savory Greek pastries -- including one of the best versions of baklava we've ever had in our lives.
The Athenian (15350 East Iliff Avenue, Aurora) Angie and Tom Stathopoulos opened the Athenian more than ten years ago, filling a former Pizza Hut with all manner of gaudy Greek kitsch. But they also sunk their hearts and souls into the restaurant, and they operate it like it's their home. Their menu spans the Greek classics, including souvlaki, spanokopita, gyros, kabobs and saganaki. It's cooked with care and delivered with pride -- and it often comes with a glass of Greek wine or ouzo that a server has forcibly convinced you to try.
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Melita's Greek Cafe and Market (1035 Lincoln Street) This Greek market has existed in some iteration for more than three decades, but when the current owners, mother and daughter team Maria Gibson and Adrian Aguilar, took over in 2008, they set out to make the place more Greek -- though they're not Greek themselves. The breakfast and lunch spot features both classics (like gyros and souvlaki) and twists -- like Greek pizza -- and the market vends all kinds of treats, from fresh feta to baklava.